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The ‘Gotham Theory’ of the Republican Party

Amid the general malaise that has fallen on Republicans inside and outside Washington as the shutdown has lingered and public blame has fallen squarely on their party's shoulders, an interesting theory has emerged in some quarters of the GOP.

The theory goes like this: The party can't sustain itself in its current state. It needs to bottom out in order to begin rebuilding successfully. "Sometimes when a system is broken, it's better to let it/push it to failure rather than prop it up and let it limp along," explained Matt McDonald, a veteran of the several Republican presidential campaigns and now a partner at Hamilton Place Strategies, a nonpartisan consulting firm. "That way you get to start fresh."


(Photo: AP/Warner Brothers Pictures/Ron Phillips)

We have taken to calling that line of thinking the "Gotham Theory" of politics. Here's why (for you non-"Batman" aficionados): In "Batman Begins," there is a character named Ra's al Ghul (Liam Neeson) who heads a group set on destroying Gotham, allegedly for its own good. The theory is that Gotham has fallen too far to be saved and that the best thing that can be done for it in the long run is to hasten its demise.

Don't take it from us. Check out al Ghul's own explanation:

"Gotham's time has come. Like Constantinople or Rome before it the city has become a breeding ground for suffering and injustice. It is beyond saving and must be allowed to die. This is the most important function of the League of Shadows. It is one we've performed for centuries. Gotham ... must be destroyed."

This is not an entirely new theory as it relates to Republicans or to political parties more generally. (Heck, we wrote about it in the wake of the 2012 election.)  But, it is drawing more and more traction of late as Republicans -- particularly in the House -- have pursued a now-failed strategy to link defunding or delaying Obamacare to funding the government.  That strategy has led to record-low job approval numbers for the congressional GOP and increasing concerns that rather than beginning the rebranding effort that the Republican National Committee pushed earlier this year, the party has actually taken a step backward.

Considering where the party finds itself, the idea that forcing it into a reckoning -- to deal with the schism between the establishment and the tea party wings once and for all and as soon as possible -- is one that has real appeal to a certain segment of the professional political class. These people worry that if the nadir isn't reached soon, it might not happen until after the 2016 presidential election.

The problem with the "Gotham Theory"? One man's low point is another man's high point. (See Cruz, Ted.) As in, there is a real chunk of Republicans -- both in and out of Congress -- who view the events of the last few weeks as a step in the right direction, not the wrong one.  They don't view it as the party moving closer to bottoming out but rather toward a return to principle, which, they believe, is the ultimate path back to the presidency. That means that a reckoning might well not come until 2016, when it looks like a near-certainty that the establishment (Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush) and the tea party wing (Cruz, Rand Paul) will battle for control of the party. If the tea party wing wins and fails to reclaim the White House -- and especially if it comes nowhere close -- then the "Gotham Theory" might be in full effect.

Until then, Republicans will just have to keep waiting for their Batman.

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.

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